Blog: Biodiversity and nature recovery show and tell

On 20 April 2023 the Local Government Association (LGA) held a virtual event along with the Planning Advisory Services (PAS) on biodiversity and nature recovery.


The virtual event was held to highlight the good work councils are doing in their journey to achieving the Environment Improvement Plan set out by the UK Government. The aim of this virtual event was to bring together councils to discuss how they have implemented biodiversity net gain (BNG) requirements, delivered on ‘local nature recovery strategies’ (LNRS) and provided an enhanced biodiversity duty for public authorities.

319 people attended the virtual event with the session chaired by Cllr Laura Beddow, Member of the Improvement and Innovation Board’s Climate Change working group and portfolio holder for Culture at Dorset Council. Cllr Beddow, gave background information to attendees and introduced the following speakers and panellists: 

  • Oliver Jones, Interim Director of Recreation, London Borough of Camden
  • Kristie Charlesworth, Ecology and Climate Change Manager, Lichfield District Council
  • Tim Cleary, Parks and Countryside Operations Manager, Walsall Council
  • Chitra Nadarajah, Head of Climate Change and Environmental Strategy, Hampshire County Council
  • Andy Davidson, Nature Recovery Officer, Hampshire County Council

The speakers were drawn from a selection of case studies that the Planning Advisory Service (PAS) have collected to showcase good practice in this area which are available to download from their website and also featured in the April edition of the LGA First magazine.

Presentation 1

Parks for Health - London Borough of Camden

Parks for Health was part of the Future Parks Accelerator fund, Heritage Lottery Fund and Department of Levelling Up Housing and Communities (DLUHC). Parks were born from a public health crisis caused by British slums, so Camden and Islington councils really wanted to look at their parks from a health perspective again to ensure they continued to be health assets for our communities. The project started 6 months before the pandemic, which really centred this emphasis for them and reminded people the issue they were trying to tackle. Camden and Islington together span from Covent Garden, Hampstead Heath, Kilburn and to Hackney making it a highly diverse area. The differences between the boroughs is stark and is really accentuated by wealth and health disparity.

They started by looking at the role of nature to support people with their health and reviewed available research, a core piece used was the statistic of spending two hours in green spaces having a profound positive effect on health. Access to nature is central to achieving this. They undertook a Natural Capital Accounting exercise through Green Keeper to get an idea of the value of the parks were, creating metrics to identify the key benefits. By looking at the number of visits to greenspace they could turn it into a value. Using this they had a basis for a business plan for why we need green spaces and their impact.

Green social subscribing used the existing GP referral route to get people into the greenspaces. They had support from Defra and the Department of Health to create a national case study on this and showed everyone why this is so important. More information can be found at Ways to Move Camden.

However both boroughs still need to diversify their offer and bring people together in the community. The Wellbeing Walks programme in the Bloomsbury area already existed and organised by the community through the Bloomsbury Squares and Gardens Association, but the council helped to promote them which has now accelerated its popularity with a series taking place through out the year. Now more walks are happening with much more diverse participants, these are used positively in our communications to different communities.

Creating Nature Space in Camden – they have been working with partners such as the City of London and the Royal Parks to help increase biodiversity. Sharing the impact of why they are doing this, one key theme is improving access to nature. This is a big challenge of being in London but they do have 70 green spaces in Camden as well as looking for other opportunities for access, such as greening roads and footpaths. There is a clear business case of why they want green spaces. They have a short video of why greenspace is important to residents hearing from the people themselves on YouTube.

More information on Parks for Health is available online.

Presentation 2

Purple Horizons Project - Walsall and Lichfield Councils

This project was about expanding the heathland in the area. Working with colleagues at the wildlife trust they shared project they jumped on the chance to enhance nature across the borough. They had been involved with natural schemes with Natural England on heath restoration, so scoped together capital habitat zones that could link the heath together. The heath is a UNESCO geo park, so they had the opportunity to sell the project alongside. They worked with consultants looking at green proposals and stimulated green investment to quickly expand heathland and the areas in between. The primary target in the first year was to restore 15-20 HA which weren’t included in existing environmental schemes. They received £120,000 from natural England to achieve the first target.

They could use their own local seed for lowland meadow and heath restoration and allowed the community to get involved as well. By using interpretation, they were able to get the community on board and got local buy in as well as raising the profile. Wanted to protect the large oak trees that had been disappearing in recent years. Barr Beacon did fall out of scope of some schemes and so this project allowed them to focus on it. This is what has so far been achieved in two years and hopefully there will be more in year 3.

Involvement of Lichfield council, a partner in the purple horizons project. They are managing council owned sites as well as identifying third parties who could help deliver environmental benefits. This is part of their council policy, as well as having up to date nature recovery mapping. Data is powerful, so collect it and use it. It is an aid in decision making and helps with discussions to make sure ecology is being considered.

There are sites utilised by both humans and wildlife. Surveys have found there are a number of rare bees in sands bank at a SSSI site, which university students and partners have conducted to help understand this better.

Lichfield have declared a nature recovery/biodiversity emergency. Provided training and learning to staff and members on this. They have also identified upcoming issues and internal networks for input on LNRS. They also found it useful to set up local green space and environment network – looked at the mowing strategy and a commitment to no mow May. The council has in house specialists. The new corporate strategy looks beyond the usual four-year political cycle and is thinking longer term with aspirations such a designated more Local Nature Reserves, flood plain restoration, species introduction and more.

Presentation 3

Collaboration as a Tool for Nature Recovery - Hampshire County Council

In 2018 Hampshire undertook their 2050 commission to understand key risks facing the area. They had hearings around six key themes that brought in expert and regional data to create recommendations. Climate change was identified as the most important driver to 2050. This was the same time as the climate emergencies were being declared in 2019. They set themselves two targets as part of this response – to be carbon neutral by 2050 and to become resilient for two degrees rise in temperature.

Since then, they have embedded climate change across the county council, the wider public sector, and their communities. There is a lot of information on their website, with one feature being that all key decisions must consider if they are mitigating climate related impacts or reducing emissions.

They created this strategic framework to create work projects such as, the local transport plan, energy efficiency for residential homes and biodiversity is currently being looked at in more detail. There was also an internal restructure for the Hampshire 2050 directorate. The five key drivers from the 2050 Commission were:

  • Climate
  • Economy
  • People and society
  • Environment
  • Technology

They want to be in a position to understand their responsibilities as well as identify opportunities – green finance has come out of this. The strategic embedding of the natural environment brings it alongside planning, transport, skills, and other areas of council work. They are looking to tackle the challenge from a cross cutting perspective and not from working in silos.

The council manages about 80 sites across the county, which constitutes a lot of land they are responsible for.

HCC has an ambition to plant one million more trees. Hampshire has 17 per cent tree and wood cover – compared to Europe this is low, they have more like 30-35 per cent. They have formed a collaboration with the Hampshire Forest partnership, things are changing rapidly for nature recovery. Looking at which nature-based solutions work best for them. Carbon sequestration storage, pollinators, tree cover, flood management, soil health as well as nature-based health and wellbeing.

Carbon agenda in land management – it seems to just be focussed on trees which is not the only solution. International guidance. Working with Hampshire Biodiversity Council they looked to see the soil carbon sequestration up to a metre below. Soil organic carbon, leaf litter and tree cover, fungi below soil, vegetation on the surface. Natural and semi-natural habitats are good at storing in the soil compared to woodlands. The wet heaths with peat deposits, carbon stored in this is very high, these need protecting and drying out. They were able to find out with sequestration, it mostly happens through natural and semi-natural habitats. They have used this data to inform decisions when it comes to land management. Restoring wetland and species rich grassland can have a huge impact on carbon sequestration.

Pollination at Parish level – they have looked to improve natural pollinators numbers as this has a profound effect on food production as well as increasing biodiversity. There has been a 97 per cent decrease in lowland meadows since the 1930s – they have been looking to improve this for the pollinators. They have worked with the local parishes to ensure support – they have been crying out to make a difference and get involved. They take the lead, networking sessions, the county council supports them understand their options and how they could improve things. They can supply seeds and provide training and information. Really powerful how much work can get done if you involve local communities. They have involved 15 so far and have got enquiries coming through from more.


(Oliver, Camden) Are house price increases a good thing for biodiversity?

 It is a proxy value; it shows how the community at large are willing to spend money to live near the parks and greenspaces. It is about understanding the value of the park to the community, including how much people are willing to spend to be near it. An economist might be able to provide information about the economic reasoning.

(Tim, Walsall) How did landowners react when you approached them to turn their land into heathlands? What were the incentives?

The approach wasn’t to just focus on heathlands, could be lowlands, meadows etc, any biodiversity increase. Some were actively engaged so we could build on the existing relationships. Local businesses, they could fund projects with co-benefits and provide that investment. With BNG, 30 years’ worth of funding so it is suitable for some and not others.

Funding – the second-year funding came from Natural England, they are interested in what can happen with natural habitats. They got a base cost for heathland expansion so know what to ask for in the future.

(Kristie, Lichfield) How did they decide 20 per cent BNG? Have developers pushed back?

Policy made in 2016, alongside other early adopters such as Warwickshire. It is a replacement percentage of 20 per cent, they look at the figure being lost. When the BNG is calculated by Defra, you must contribute 10 per cent on top of the sites whole value. Lichfield look at what BNG is being lost and ask for 20 per cent on top of that. This incentivises keeping more valuable biodiversity on site, as it will cost developers more to lose that habitat. If you share data with developers and show them the figures records and mapping directly, it is hard to argue. It has been well accepted as the developers know this a requirement and show they’ve enshrined the mitigation hierarchy. Sometimes there is push back when information it isn’t in policy, – some information is best kept in the SDP Supplementary Planning Document.

Has Lichfield allowed developers to do offsite BNG?

Yes, an offset is the last resort. Developers need to compensate on site first. They need to show they have enshrined the mitigation hierarchy. The council have three sites currently being managed as offset schemes. If developers can’t achieve full net gain on site, an offset is required. The council sell Biodiversity Units and have recently recalculated the cost of that. They charge £35,000 per Biodiversity Unit. They offer options for developers, they don’t have to buy with the council, and they can look to a third party landowner, there will be a national register that lists providers for offsetting once BNG is mandatory.

How to enforce a net gain goal?

Through policy, PAS do have a lot of guidance on BNG on their website. SPDs, planning conditions, policy are the key levers of enforcement.

PAS: Biodiversity Net Gains for local authorities

PAS: Nature Recovery for local authorities

Is Hampshire using the carbon sequestration estimates for the Hampshire 2050 targets?

Hampshire looking to develop app to help farmers to improve their grasslands and make them better for carbon sequestration. They have a lot of work to do to mitigate carbon, they are trying to work out what they have and what their assets can do for them. They have a lot of action to take first to reduce emissions. The Carbon sequestration targets are based on mitigation and offsetting is the last resort now. Not sequestering or offsetting now to reach their targets.

How do you prioritise it across the council and get it in everyone’s mind?

The 2050 commission really helped, it was something members were engaged with, the natural environment was identified as one of the five key drivers. Seeing the legislation catch up with the recommendations put forward in 2018. It is at the centre with the commission, but the next 12 months will be about the key strategic areas understand the roles and what they will need to do. It must be something everyone does and not just the climate change team.

Is BNG something you are rolling out across the estate or just specific projects?

Camden – how do we make it mainstream? Declared a climate and ecological emergence in 2019, so they have started asking what the ecological impacts are of what they are doing, the officers are equipped with the information across the council. Climate is really important to the local community and so this is embedded in the members as well as the officers, they are spending a lot of money changing things – made the library more energy efficiencies. They do recognise they have access to more facilities than other councils do due to being in the capital. How do they change resourcing and have the capacity.

How do you mitigate and protect adjacent sites to development?

Trying to designate more nature reserves in the district and looking to improve action plans with public support it would be good to go for funding. Education panels to show people how they should use nature sites and how to reduce damage. If people are aware, most will change their behaviours.